New Coach Kick Starts National Soccer Team

Article excerpt

Bruce Arena, former coach of D.C. United, has been chosen to head the U.S. national team. Americans hope he can reverse a program that hit bottom during this year's World Cup.

Bruce Arena said he wanted a challenge. Now he has one. The tough-talking soccer coach has been put in charge of the U.S. national team.

Arena replaces Steve Sampson, who transformed U.S. soccer into an international laughingstock with last summer's one-goal performance and lastplace finish at the World Cup in France. Not that the United States was on the cutting edge in international competition. But the team's miserable performance made it appear to be the poorest-managed sport in the world's most powerful nation.

"I know the road ahead will have both peaks and valleys," says Arena, former coach of D.C. United in Washington. "I do look forward to the challenge. I have a lot of confidence in the ability of the American player."

His four-year contract is worth a reported $3.5 million, but he'll earn the money coping with the in-house politics of the U.S. Soccer Federation. The new coach has been openly critical of federation officials in the past, and sources say he personally detests a number of members on the federation's executive committee.

But Arena claims he won't tolerate interference from U.S. Soccer's hierarchy. His contract calls for total autonomy, preventing the federation from meddling in national-team affairs.

"I'll issue a little warning to U.S. Soccer, particularly the staff of U.S. Soccer," said D.C. United President Kevin Payne during Arena's formal hiring. "You better buckle your seat belt, because Bruce knows that to get the big stuff right, you've got to get all the little stuff right first."

Arena's first order of team business was to call in players for an exhibition against Australia in San Jose, Calif. The new coach hopes to work with at least five of his former D.C. United players: rookie midfielder Ben Olsen, veteran midfielders Richie Williams and Tony Sanneh and defenders Eddie Pope and Carlos Llamosa. Bob Bradley, whose Chicago Fire defeated United 2-0 in the Major League Soccer Cup, will rejoin Arena on the national team but continue to coach the Fire. Arena is expected to emphasize youth, giving the country's more promising young players international experience before qualifying begins for the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea.

Many soccer enthusiasts consider Arena, 47, the best American coach ever. Arena won five NCAA championships at Virginia and the first two MLS championships with United. His MLS regular-season record is 60-36. …